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Meet DW's champions of free speech

May 21, 2019

DW Freedom works to promote greater freedom of speech and the media around the world by raising awareness of the detention and intimidation of journalists, activists and bloggers. Meet some of them.

dw freedom Wa Lone Kyaw Soe Oo Maria Ressa

DW Freedom is working to promote human rights and the freedom of expression around the world - regardless of gender, political or religious beliefs.

Countries, in particular, those that respect human rights, must play a role in the process of ensuring rights are protected everywhere. Western countries also need to understand the necessity of granting asylum to activists and protecting the lives of people who are at risk of being beaten, imprisoned or even killed.

Do you know activists behind bars? Spread the word!

Here are some examples of people who deserve international support for their work:

dw freedom Maria Ressa

Maria Ressa – Journalist – THREATENED
Country: Philippines 

Maria Ressa is the CEO and executive editor of Rappler, an online and social media news network based in Manila. Launched in 2012, the news site is one of the most popular in the country. It made a name for itself for its in-depth and investigative journalism but was in the headlines as one of the only media organizations in the Philippines critical of President Rodrigo Duterte and his policies, including his deadly war against drugs. This has led to persistent harassment from Duterte supporters, especially on social media. The government is also making moves to shut down Ressa and Rappler by charging them with multiple counts of tax evasion. Ressa says that the case is being used to intimidate her and her colleagues to stop their critical reporting. Read more...


dw freedom Jamal Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi – Journalist – MURDERED
Country: Saudi Arabia/United States

Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist and writer critical of the Saudi royal house under King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.  

The writer, known as a fighter for free expression in Saudi Arabia, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. His death caused a global uproar that intensified tensions between Saudi Arabia and many of its trading partners, including the US, Canada, Great Britain, France and Germany. It is suspected that the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi's death, which he denies. Read more...


dw freedom Wa Lone Kyaw Soe Oo

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – Journalists – RELEASED
Country: Myanmar

Burmese Reuters correspondents Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained in December 2017. At the time of their arrest, they had been investigating the murder of ten Rohingya Muslim men and boys by police and soldiers in a village in Myanmar's Rakhine state. In September 2018, they were sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly breaking the Official Secrets Act, a law dating back to the colonial era. The two were released in May 2019 as part of a presidential amnesty. Read more...


dw freedom Shahidul Alam

Shahidul Alam – Photographer – RELEASED ON BAIL
Country: Bangladesh

After commenting on and questioning the Bangladeshi government's handling of student protests, photographer and social activist Shahidul Alam (pictured above) was arrested on August 5, 2018. He was released on bail on November 21, 2018 after having spent more than 100 days in prison. A former jury member for DW's "The BOBs," Alam has documented everyday life in Bangladesh for decades. After his release, he was admitted into a hospital for medical treatment.

dw freedom Fahad Al-Fahhad

Fahad al-Fahad – Activist – IMPRISONED
Country: Saudi Arabia 

Fahad al-Fahad, a former labor ministry consultant, is a prominent Saudi human rights activist who has served two years in prison since his arrest and subsequent conviction. A conviction on charges tied solely to his peaceful social media activity. He was arrested in April 2016 and sentenced in June 2017 to five years in prison, including time served, a 10-year travel ban and a ban on writing and media work. He is one of more than 20 prominent Saudi activists serving long prison terms on charges such as "breaking allegiance with the ruler" or "inciting hostility against the state" that do not constitute recognizable crimes.

dw freedom Mahmoud Abu Zeid Shawkan

Mahmoud Abu Zeid "Shawkan" – Photographer – UNDER “POLICE OBSERVATION”
Country: Egypt

In 2013, Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, better known as "Shawkan," was arrested after photographing the violent conflict between security forces and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shawkan is accused of being a member of the prohibited Muslim Brotherhood, illegally possessing a gun and murder. In September 2018, he was sentenced to five years in prison which amounted to time served. In March 2019, he was released from prison, along with another 214 people who were sentenced to five years in prison. However, Shawkan has been ordered to spend every night in a police station for the next five years. But he insisted he will continue working as a journalist, saying he was "not the first or the last journalist to be detained."

In 2018, Shawkan was awarded the World Press Freedom Prize by UNESCO. He wrote about the repression of freedom of expression for DW Freedom in May 2019.

dw freedom Azory Gwanda

Azory Gwanda – Journalist – MISSING
Country: Tanzania

Tanzanian journalist Azory Gwanda, who had just published articles on mysterious killings in the area, disappeared in November 2017. He told his wife that he was going on a special assignment and would return the following day. When he didn't return, his wife reported him missing. In May 2019, the country's foreign minister referred to the journalist as having "disappeared and died" in a BBC interview, a claim that the Committee to Protect Journalists has requested clarification on.

dw freedom Ahmet Altann

Ahmet Altan – Writer/Journalist – IMPRISONED
Country: Turkey

Ahmet Altan is a Turkish journalist and writer. Shortly after the coup attempt in Turkey in the summer of 2016, he was arrested because of his alleged contacts to the people in charge of the failed coup. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment.

"I am in jail not because I am a criminal. I am in jail because the criminals' rule of law is in power," he stated in his defense. He wrote about his experience in prisonfor DW Freedom in May 2019. In July 2019, his sentence was commuted to five to 15 years. 


dw freedom Mehmet Altan

Mehmet Altan – Writer/Academic – RELEASED ON APPEAL
Country: Turkey

University professor Mehmet Altan — along with his brother, Ahmet — was arrested in September 2016 accused of being a member of a terrorist organization and of attempting to overthrow the government. The Turkish constitutional court ordered his release in 2018, a move then blocked by a Turkish criminal court. In February 2018, Mehmet Altan was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was subsequently freed following an appeals court ruling on June 27. His brother remains in prison. 


dw freedom Ding Lingjie

Ding Lingjie – Activist – IMPRISONED
Country: China

Ding Lingjie, a Chinese activist, was arrested in September 2017. She is the editor of "Mincheng Guancha," a civil rights website. Allegedly, a video on her website featured Xi Jinping, China’s president, in a negative way. Lingjie was subsequently accused of "insulting the Head of State" and is now waiting for trial.


dw freedom Jover Laurio

Jover Laurio – Blogger –THREATENED
Country: The Philippines

Jover Laurio is a Filipino blogger who has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte. On her blog, she criticizes government propaganda and documents the murdering related to the Duterte's war against drug-related crime. She originally blogged under a pseudonym but she was later outed by a blogger close to the government. Since then she has been exposed to a hate campaign against her and has had her life threatened. She is still blogging but does so with personal security funded by donations. There is a pending libel case against her which she is contesting. The newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer has selected her as one of the "Filipinos of the year 2017."


#FreedomofSpeech Alaa Abd El Fattah, Egypt
Image: DW

Alaa Abd El-Fattah – Blogger – UNDER “POLICE OBSERVATION”
Country: Egypt

A software developer, activist and blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah played a central role in Egypt's 2011 revolution. At the end of 2013, he was arrested at a peaceful demonstration against tightened protest laws. In February 2015, a military court sentenced him to five years in prison in a controversial proceeding. He was accused of having organized an "unauthorized protest" and for calling for violence against police and security forces. He was released at the end of March 2019 but must report to a police station daily for the next five years.


#FreedomofSpeech Bassel Khartabil, Syria
Image: DW

Bassel Khartabil – Activist – EXECUTED
Country: Syria

As a software developer, Bassel Khartabil made essential contributions to improving access to the internet in the Arab world. In March 2012, Khartabil was jailed and a few months later accused of "endangering the state." No decision was reached in the case. In October 2015, Khartabil disappeared without a trace. His whereabouts are unknown, but there have been rumors that a military court sentenced him to death. According to his wife, he has been executed. 


#FreedomofSpeech Milagro Sala, Argentina
Image: DW

Milagro Sala – Activist – IMPRISONED
Country: Argentina

Milagro Sala is the leader of Tupác Amaru, an organization that carries out social projects with state funds in northwestern Argentina. In December 2015, the activist took part in peaceful protests against planned cuts to financial resources. Milagro Sala was imprisoned shortly thereafter and accused of unlawful occupation of public space, extortion and embezzlement of state funds. The imprisonment has provoked worldwide criticism, including from Pope Francis. In August 2018, Argentina's Supreme Court ordered her to be transferred into house detention. 


#FreedomofSpeech Oleg Sentsov, Russia
Image: DW

Oleg Sentsov – Filmmaker – RELEASED
Country: Russia

In August 2015, a Russian military court sentenced Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov to 20 years in a penal camp. Oleg Sentsov had already been held in custody for 15 months before the ruling, after being arrested by the Russian intelligence service for terrorist activities and the formation of a terrorist organization. He supported pro-European protests in 2013 and 2014 and provided Ukrainian soldiers with supplies during the Crimea crisis. Observers said Oleg Sentsov received only a show trial. He has reported being tortured during interrogations. The court has denied the accusations. He was awarded the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought in December 2018. Sentsov was one of 24 prisoners released in September 2019 as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine.

Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia
Image: DW

Raif Badawi – Writer – IMPRISONED
Country: Saudi Arabia

Internet activist Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 and sentenced in May 2014 to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyals (about 200,000 euros). The court found him guilty of apostasy and violation of IT laws. He received the first 50 lashings in January 2015. The floggings have since been postponed due to his poor health. Badawi was awarded  DW's Freedom of Speech Award in 2015.

#FreedomofSpeech Hisham Almiraat, Morocco
Image: DW

Hisham Almiraat – Activist – THREATENED
Country: Morocco

As a doctor and a civil society activist, Hisham Almiraat cares about improving living conditions in his country. Since 2009, Almiraat has been a blogger for Global Voices. He also founded Talk Morocco and Mamfakinch, media projects that played a crucial role during the Arab Spring. Almiraat stood before a judge for the first time at the end of 2015 on charges of endangering the internal security of the state. A guilty verdict could result in up to five years in prison.


Ashraf Fayadh – Writer – IMPRISONED
Country: Saudi Arabia

The religious police jailed poet and lyricist Ashraf Fayadh in August 2013 for mocking Islam and spreading atheist ideas. The Saudi-born Palestinian was sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashings. Fayadh appealed and in November 2015 a court sentenced him to death. Following a number of international protests, his sentence was reduced to eight years in prison and a public display of remorse.


#FreedomofSpeech Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Bahrain
Image: DW

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja – Activist – IMPRISONED
Country: Bahrain

Human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison by a military court in June 2011. He was found guilty of forming a terrorist group to overthrow the royal rulers and change the constitution. Al-Khawaja supported numerous human rights organizations in Bahrain and organized peaceful demonstrations and human rights events during the Arab Spring.


#FreedomofSpeech Narges Mohammadi, Iran
Image: DW

Narges Mohammadi – Journalist – IMPRISONED
Country: Iran

Iranian journalist Narges Mohammadi is the vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. In May 2016, Narges Mohammadi was sentenced to 10 years of a 16-year prison sentence, for her work defending human and women's rights in Iran.

Mohammadi was arrested before in 2009 and sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2011 on charges of assembly and collusion against national security, membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center and propaganda against the state. An appeals court reduced her sentence to six years. In 2013, she was released on bail for medical reasons. Mohammadi has suffered serious health problems, including a neurological disorder that causes muscular paralysis and at one point even lost her ability to see. In May 2015, she was imprisoned again and since then she has been denied proper medical care. She has also been refused contact with her children, who live in France with their father.


#FreedomofSpeech Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan
Image: DW

Khadija Ismayilova – Journalist – RELEASED
Country: Azerbaijan

Khadija Ismayilova was jailed in December 2014, at first on charges of incitement of suicide, later because of tax evasion and embezzlement. Khadija Ismayilova has been working on uncovering corruption scandals involving the Azerbaijani presidential family. In 2015, a court sentenced her to 7.5 years in prison. She had been put under the pressure of the authoritarian regime before. In 2012, personal photos of Khadija Ismayilova surfaced in the government-friendly media. After 537 days in prison, she was released early at the end of May 2016. In 2017, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for her courage and perseverance in her fight against corruption. However, Ismayilova's travel ban prevented her from participating in the award ceremony. 


#FreedomofSpeech Hossein Ronaghi Maleki. Iran
Image: DW

Hossein Ronaghi Maleki – Blogger – RELEASED
Country: Iran

Iranian blogger and human rights activist Hossein Ronaghi Maleki was sentenced to 15 years in prison in December 2009. The court found him guilty of spreading anti-government propaganda, insulting both the religious leader as well as the president and taking part in "Iran Proxy," an Internet group that advocates for freedom of expression. Maleki's prison term was suspended on multiple occasions due to his poor health. He was released on bail on May 4, 2016.


#FreedomofSpeech Biram Dah Abeid, Mauritania
Image: DW

Biram Dah Abeid – Activist – RELEASED
Country: Mauritania

Politician and activist Biram Dah Abeid has been repeatedly honored for his commitment to human rights, especially in the fight against slavery, which remains an issue in his country even after being officially outlawed in 2007. Abeid, who founded the anti-slavery movement IRA (Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste), was sentenced in January 2015 to two years in prison for incitement and membership in an unauthorized organization. The highest court acquitted Abeid on May 17, 2016.


#FreedomofSpeech Atena Farghadani, Iran
Image: DW

Atena Farghadani – Artist – RELEASED
Country: Iran

Farghadani was imprisoned in August 2014 for drawing a controversial caricature. Four months later, she was released on bail. She took her story to the public and thrown back in jail. The artist began a hunger strike, but a heart attack forced her to end the protest. In June 2015, she was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison for the dissemination of seditious propaganda, insulting the head of state and members of parliament and threatening state security. Farghadani was acquitted in May 2016.